Grace For The Journey
There is much being said today about what the church ought to be. Some advocate that the church must be more accepting and affirming; others insist that the church must also be focused on the social needs of their community; and still others advocate that the church must major on being relevant and genuine. Because of these strong voices, there is confusion on exactly what the purpose and ministry of the church really is. Over the next two days in my blog I want to look in the Bible and see what the church in the first century was focused on and involved with. The Bible tells us in Acts 2:41-47, “Then those who gladly received His word were baptized: and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believe were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people, And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
In these verses God gives us five traits of the church that He desires and led the believers to implement in their on-going activities together. One crucial aspect God teaches us in this passage is that the believers who make up His church do everything based on a Scripturally-anchored gospel. We will see the Bible clearly teaches that, just as it was in the first century, these traits are what churches should be and do today.
The great need of our day
Is that churches return to
Being truly Gospel and Bible centered
In their worship services and ministry.
Today we will see the first two traits:
- Evangelistic effectiveness AND doctrinal depth – Acts 2:41-42, 47.
Acts 2:41 tells us that in one day 3,000 people “were saved and baptized,” and verse 47 reports that God “added daily to their number those who were being saved.” At the same time, the people were “devoted to the teaching of the Apostles” and were possessed by a great sense of awe over God’s glory.
I often hear and read church depth placed at odds with church growth. But, the Bible teaches the early church clearly did both. In reality . . .
The one is impossible
Without the other.
Churches that grow in numbers without growing deep in faith are not creating a “sustainable” biblical existence; they are only generating a little temporary excitement. Sadly today, many churches that are majoring on reaching people are not nearly as deep in the faith as they may think or need to be.
I believe that this is one vital truth that is missing in many 21st century churches. Yet, it is so vital in making the church what it needs to be. Understanding the gospel gives you a sense of people’s lostness. As you study the Bible, you . . .
- Understand the wrath of God against sin, how imminent His judgment is, the urgency of sharing the gospel, and how great His grace is towards those who repentance and accept Christ as Savior.
- Understanding the gospel gives you humility, because you realize how lost you were before God saved you.
- Understanding the gospel gives you the faith to believe God for great things, because the gospel reveals how willing and able God is to save.
You show me someone characterized by a sense of urgency, humility, love and the boldness that comes from great faith, and I’ll show you someone who will be an effective evangelist!
The Bible teaches that healthy, Bible-driven churches do both. The Bible says in Colossians 1:5-6, “Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heave, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth.” Certain churches within the gospel-centered movement are suprisingly unconcerned with, or ineffective at, evangelism. They talk a lot about “mission,” “service,” and “planting churches” but somehow that never translates that into evangelism. They love to critique everyone else’s evangelism, but do very little of their own. Charles Spurgeon – no theological lightweight – said, “I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unpack all the mysteries of the divine Word, for salvation is the thing we are to live for.”
One great passion of the first century church was their zeal for being faithful to proclaim and present the Gospel in all their activities; they had a passion for seeing lost souls saved.
- Gospel-centered churches are characterized by the presence of God. (Acts
This first church was full of the Spirit. There are a few things in this chapter that we will not likely experience in our congregations, outside of the providence of God, but verse 43 gives you a classic description of the effect of the fullness of the Spirit – it says the people were “filled with awe.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones this filling as, “A felt-sense of the attributes and presence of God as revealed in the gospel.” The first century church’s sense of the “presence of God” was not the result of a musical crescendo or an emotional preaching.
It came simply
From the preaching of the gospel
By ones who really believed it,
Experienced its truth,
And had a heart full of passion
For it within their souls.
Jonathan Edwards, described his sense of the presence of God like this: “Sometimes only mentioning the name of Christ or an attribute of God will cause my heart to burn within me . . . Suddenly God appears glorious to me. When I enjoy this sweetness it seems to carry me outside of myself. I cannot bring myself even to take my eye from this Glorious Object.”
Note . . .
That this sort of experience
Is not at odds with doctrine,
Or even beyond doctrine,
But flows out of good doctrine.
It’s not less than doctrine,
It is more.
God’s beauty and majesty
Are not just to be perceived with the mind,
They are to be felt in the soul.
Where this happens, there is the joy you see in Acts 2:46-47. It is hard for me to believe that a church can really “get” the gospel when its services are not characterized by joy. Yes, there are times for somberness, mourning, and repentance in worship, but . . .
The predominant motif
Of biblical worship
Is joy and celebration.
Multiple places in the Bible command us to clap our hands, shout with joy, and to sing and delight in God. The Bible tells us in Psalm 16:11 that in God’s presence is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
So how can we claim
To have gospel-centered churches
If our services are not characterized
By exuberant joy?
Evangelistic effectiveness and doctrinal depth, and a sense of the presence of God, are two of the five things that the gospel produced in the early church. How present are these first two traits in your church? If one of these characteristics is missing, is it possible that we don’t understand the gospel as much as we claim to? These are the indelible marks of a gospel-centered church.
If these are missing from your church, the answer is not to “go and try harder.” You need to ask yourself, “Why is the gospel we are preaching not producing these things?” and “Why are we doing other things in place of these vital life-giving truths? Tomorrow we will look at three other thing that the gospel should produce in our churches.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”